Today’s agricultural land is dominated by large, open fields. Two hundred years ago, the landscape was far
more varied. Fields, meadows, bogs, forests, thickets and commons with scattered trees alternated between
Until 1805, people used the forest for many purposes. All the large trees with tall trunks were defined as the
high forest. These belonged to the owner of the estate and were used for timber and firewood. Smaller trees
like hazel, hawthorn and alder as well as oak and beech shrubs were the undergrowth. The peasants could
use these freely. By trimming the trees in a fixed rotation, they made posts for fences, wicker for wickerwork
in the fences and houses, small planks for half-timbering and wood for tools and fuel. The peasants had grazing
in the forest and pigs were put out for pannage. The pigs rooted in the earth and aided the emergence of new trees.
But cattle, sheep and goats hindered the growth of the forest with their grazing. Forest grazing and the demand
for timber and firewood resulted in the forests becoming overused and stunted.
The Forest Reserve Regulation of 1805 meant that the forests were fenced in and grazing was prohibited. In the
future, forests were only to be used to secure the production of timber. In the old forest areas the regulation
ensured the preservation of beech trees. At the end of the 1800s plantations were established in Jutland, and
the Norway spruce became the commonest tree in Denmark.
In the poor soils of Western Jutland, the forest was open to the sunlight with heather on the forest floor. In the
Middle Ages there were already large parts of Western Jutland where forests no longer existed and the heath
had spread. The heath provided grazing and winter feed for the animals. The heath also provided the farmers
with fuel in the form of heather and heather peat. Heather was used as thatching for houses and replaced hay
as bedding in the barns. In addition, the moorland farmers dug up peat in the heath, which they used to mix
with dung in their middens, so that they obtained a compost-like fertiliser that was good in the sandy soil,
because it retained nitrogen and moisture better. By using the heath in this way, the farmers rejuvenated and
maintained the heath. After the middle of the 19th century the cultivation of the heath was intensified and the
old patterns of all-round utilisation of the heath gradually disappeared.
The demand for firewood took its toll on the forests and as early as the 17th century people in Western Jutland
started to use heather peat and bog peat to replace firewood. The production of peat increased in the 18th century.
Peat consists of plant remains which cannot be decomposed due to the moist and oxygen-poor conditions in the
bog. It contains carbon, which is why peat soil is suitable for fuel. Peat was made in two ways. Either the bog soil
was cut out in turfs right away, or else the soil was dug up in large chunks and kneaded with water. This provided
the best fuel, because the kneading provided an even distribution of the carbon. After the kneading, the peat mass
was shaped into turfs. The damp turfs had to dry - first on the ground and afterwards in open stacks.
Peat was used as fuel in Denmark until around 1950. Particularly during the First and Second World Wars, when
there was a shortage of fuel, peat production in the Danish bogs was very high.
Writer: museum keeper MA Gudrun Gormsen